Fuck Your Popularity Contest
In London, England, 2001, for two weeks the artist Michael Landy systematically destroyed all of his possessions as a public art instillation. At a recently closed department store building in London's Oxford Street shopping district, a team of assistants wearing identical blue overalls shredded, crushed, grinded and granulated all of Landy's 7227 items he'd collected through his life so far, amounting to over 5 tonnes of material.
All of it.
Books, kitchen utensils, a car, credit cards, clothes, records/cd's, family photos, love letters, artworks given to him by other famous artists (almost costing him a turner prize nomination), forms of I.D., furniture..... every single item passed over conveyor belts to be inspected, categorised and then broken down into tiny fragments. Thought out assembly line destruction instead of mindless assembly line production.
No donating things to charity, no saving the things with sentimental or financial value and no copies made before he started. When the project finished, he had just his cat and the overalls he was wearing.
45,000 people came to watch it happen. 8000 on the final day.
While overseeing the event he was offered councilling by a pyschiatrist and priest and his mother broke down in tears when witnessing the destruction. Private dealers and gallery owners were promised sacks of granules valued at £4000 each, in return for funding the (four figure sum) project, but Landy changed his mind at the last minute and buried the sacks somewhere instead.
The process was interesting enough but as with all powerful events it's the aftermath that held the most curiousity. The great question that many people asked was "What's he going to do now?" As if without the objects you own... what are you supposed to do in life? What are you meant to aim for?
Of course from all destructive acts comes creativity and what this event created was a number of questions about life. Why do we spend our time on this earth, working years at jobs to have money to buy things that only superficially bring us limited happiness? Do we define ourselves and identity by the things we buy or gather?
As the project progressed, did Michael Landy become less of a person by losing more and more of his belongings? No.
Can we live without these objects? Yes. The victims of natural disasters are the proof but Michael Landy set the example that if we chose to get rid of it all, life would still happen.
He had intended for BREAKDOWN to be a work of art not a way of life but in the time after, Landy found it difficult to readjust to 'normal life', "It was like attending my own funeral," he says. "I didn't want to make any work, I didn't want to do anything. I didn't feel the need to."
"When I finished I felt an incredible sense of freedom, the possibility that I could do anything."